August 28, 2021

Our sketching group gathered again last Sunday. We traveled to Oceanside, via Zoom, for some “virtual” sketching. For this event we rendered some of the same places that others had seen in person for the Oceanside 2021 Plein Air Festival (July 24 to July 31). Artists had been invited to wander about the city (real time), painting what they saw on the spot. Then, if you wanted, you could enter your painting into a juried competition. Our host for the virtual trip didn’t mention anything of the awards that were given out. I just assumed she didn’t enter her paintings. (And the two she showed us were lovely and worthy of an award as far as I was concerned.) It was a fun morning of sketching, as I had never actually been to Oceanside. Over the years I’ve driven past it many times as I zoomed along the 5 on my way to San Diego. And even though it’s a beach town, we didn’t sketch very near the water. In fact, to look at the art you see here, you might not even guess the Pacific Ocean was close by. As a result, there wasn’t much of a discussion of how to render ocean waves. Instead, we talked about how to impose some nice perspective when quickly sketching the quaint little Oceanside houses. I think my favorite sketch, of the two, is the Top Gun house. I already had a piece of watercolor paper that I had added a wash of gold and blue. I thought it looked nice as a background—with the ink lines outlining the tiny Victorian. (I hadn’t really intended the gold to attach itself to the house in that way—it reminded me a little of “rising damp.”) You may, or may not, have guessed that the Top Gun House was in the movie “Top Gun.” I haven’t actually watched the movie, but understand there is a scene with Tom Cruise where the house figures prominently. I guess he rides up to this very house on a motor cycle. (Yup! This is SoCal and such things happen around here all the time.) It was fun to explore Oceanside, just a bit–a town I had never visited. Even One CA Girl can be a CA tourist for a day.

Even though I enjoyed my morning of sketching in Oceanside, I think the more interesting story, for me, involves my participation in a Plein Air competition some years ago. However, it was not part of a Plein Air Art Festival. It happened at the Nevada County Fair as a fair entry. Painters were invited to meet at a specific day and time during the actual fair. Participants were to do a Plein Air painting on site and then come back after 2 or 3 hours and have the art judged. (I can’t remember if we painted for 2 or 3 hours…) When my son was little, we used to enter lots of different categories under the pines at the Nevada County Fair. One year he won a ribbon for his Troll Doll Collection. Another year it was Legos. Most years we also entered the ugly cake contest. That particular spring I was surprised to see the Plein Air art challenge and decided to enter the competition. As it turns out I was one of only 3 people who showed up for the event. Once the timer started, the other two immediately went into the midway area and began painting. As I am not a fan of carnival rides I went to the animal barn. I sat under the shade of a couple huge pine trees and began sketching a young lady who was getting her bull ready to show. I had never done a Plein Air sketch that involved a specific “time” element. I remember wondering how I would do. But I soon got into my “groove” and enjoyed capturing the moment with my watercolors, Prismacolor colored pencil on Strathmore Illustration board. An artist friend and her daughter came by a couple times to check in and encourage my progress. But as the time came for us to finish, I realized I wasn’t going to be done. I had spent too much time on the pine tree in the foreground. I hadn’t resolved the greenery in the background or the ground, nor had I added highlights to the bull. And there was a whole section with a calf and 4Her that wasn’t done. (Yes, I hadn’t had time to add another person.) Maybe if I had cut off the calf without a handler with my matt knife…? Maybe? I decided I would go back to our meeting spot, and confess that I hadn’t completed the art piece in the appointed time. And therefore, I would not be but not be competing. I figured the other ladies could duke it out for 1st and 2nd place, while I just stood back and watched. But when I got back to our spot and told them I wasn’t going to share, one of the women got really mad. I reiterated several times that I hadn’t finished and she just got madder and madder. Of course, if I had shown my art I would have for sure gotten third place, with them at 1 and 2. I didn’t give in. There were only two ribbons awarded for Plein Air painting art at the fair that year. I actually started to think it was kind of funny because the woman who got first place (the one making a stink) clearly wanted to beat out 2 others. Also, the woman who got second told me on the “down low” that the crabby art bully was often like that. (I guess they both belonged to the same art group in the area.) BTW, I remember looking to see if there was a Plein Air event at the Nevada County Fair the following year. Nothing like it was listed in the catalog. Surprise, surprise! Enough said…

August 21, 2021

When I was in art school, I remember one of my professors saying it was important to develop a style, a style all your own. It seemed to me at the time that trying to focus on one particular style would be pretty limiting and actually pretty boring. I think I still feel that way today. Maybe what he meant was that it was a good idea to focus on becoming skilled with drawing and painting. Then if you developed an ease with figure drawing, symmetry, composition, line work etc you would be on your way to becoming an artist, and a good artist at that. I remember he said that it took years to become a good painter. And it also somehow seemed important to him that someone could look at a piece of art and know who had painted it. Well, if you were to line up my art from week to week, you may not guess they were done by the same person. I think the people he must have been referring to were artists like Monet, Van Gogh, Leonardo etc. I wish he would have just said all of that. Otherwise, it just seems like some kind of rubbish artistic advice. All I have ever really wanted, artistically speaking, was to be skilled and memorable in some way.

If you have been looking at the art I present each week for One CA Girl, you must have noticed lots of different styles. I really like trying new things and maybe from week to week you wouldn’t guess that I had created it. Oh well! My intention here has always been to present my art, past and/or present, that I would react to in some way. I might describe in excruciating detail the materials and technique I used. Or I might tell a story of my CA family, or I might present whatever musings that have been rolling around in my brain at any given moment during the previous week. 

For this week’s Descanso Gardens offering (8/15/2021), I was certainly attempting a paired down style, much like my Descanso’s rose arbor dated June 26, 2021–watercolor and Inktense pencils on watercolor paper. You have probably noticed that I identify each One CA Girl entry with a date (usually on a Saturday or Sunday). In a way the date is not really how I would like to identify each post, but rather I want the art to be the first thing you notice. However, as this is a journal of sorts, marking the date for each entry has always seemed the most expedient way to just get on with it. (Not sure I’m clever enough, or patient enough, to come up with a catchy title for each entry. Again, oh well!) 

It’s too bad you can’t see a WordPress feature that I use to store each week’s art/photo for One CA Girl. It’s called “Media Library” and it’s where each piece of art I have used over these past 4 years have been uploaded. It lines up each and every one as a discreet square—six images across. There is just the right amount of white space between each square and above each image is the date they were uploaded, with a discretely small font and a light shade of grey. And every now and then I scroll through the list. There are just over 500 images, with the first piece of art and story being shared March 25, 2017, my mother’s birthday. But looking at the Media Library just now reinforces my earlier comment about wanting to be somewhat memorable, coupled with the joy of having so many different styles over the years. Works for me. How about you?

August 14, 2021

This week was all about beginnings and endings for me. Or maybe it was more like endings and beginnings? It all started with my completely filling up another sketchbook. The 8/8/2021 sketch was the final one, thus ending the second in a series of Canson Mix Media 7 by 10 inch sketchbooks (Yes, I have completely filled two of them now and about to start another.) On 8/11/2021 I began sketching in the next Canson 7 by 10 inch sketchbook. But before I did that sketch I looked at the first couple sketches I had done in the beginning of the book ending with 8/8/2021. Are you with me so far? I was curious where I had been when I started that one. Those first few renderings reflected a spring “nests” theme going on at the Descanso at the time. If you look at the April 3, 2021 One CA Girl post, featuring those drawings, you will notice they were also done with pen and ink and Inktense pencils. And they were all done at the Descanso Gardens. What a surprise, right? It was fun to sit in a similar spot the other day, looking again at the same metal arbors at the entry area of the garden. Now, those rebar arbors are covered with life size butterflies (Descanso’s summer 2021 theme). As I walked around there this week, I noticed that they had also taken down many of the other nest displays. And they have removed the dragon fly I featured in my July 3, 2021 art/story. My, my, but seasonal beginnings and endings seem to be happening everywhere. I bet the Descanso’s getting ready for their fall themes. It was nice to get an invite to their 2021  “Carved” pumpkin and subsequent “Enchanted Forest of Light” outdoor events. Both were cancelled because of COVID worries.

Even though I was glad to hear the Descanso was planning to reinstate their outdoor fall/winter events (Carved and Enchanted Forest of Light), it seems that other SoCal venues may not be so lucky. The Gamble House, in Pasadena, started giving tours of the house’s interior late last spring. Prior to that time they had been closed for several months because of COVID transmission worries. However, due to recent COVID worries, they have again stopped giving in-person tours inside the house. You can still tour the outside of the house in person and they have a virtual tour of the inside. But if you can’t get inside you will miss experiencing something truly extraordinary. (You may or may not be away, but the Gamble House exterior was used as Doc Brown’s house in the movie “Back to the Future.”) Not being able to step inside is sad news on so many levels. If you are a fan of craftsman architecture (specifically Greene and Greene buildings) it us heartbreaking to imagine you can’t experience the glorious textures and craftsmanship of the wood, glass and furniture of that time. But more heartbreaking for sure is the fact that their junior docent program will again be interrupted. Each year adult volunteer docents teach middle school students about that house, training them to give tours. Then elementary school students are invited to tour the house with the middle school student docents. Cool, huh? As the inside of the house will be closed, none of the recently “virtually” trained middle schoolers will be able to conduct those tours. Breaks my heart…

But my endings/beginnings story does not end with a couple sketchbooks, seasonal changes at the Descanso Gardens and/or the status of visiting The Gamble House. Another ending/beginning SoCal story for One CA Girl will begin on 8/16/2021. That is the day summer break ends and the 2021-2022 school year begins for LAUSD. That means I will be back on campus. I am cautiously optimistic for that beginning and truly looking forward to seeing all my students. Here’s to a new beginning! Wish us luck!

August 8, 2021

It might sound a little strange, but I have been playing hide and seek with monarch caterpillars much of the summer. I have seen monarch butterflies all around my garden. And I have seen a number of them flitting about the Descanso Gardens as well. (You may have already noticed the tiny orange blurs in the first two sketches for this week. Those were monarch and fritillary butterflies.) But I haven’t seen any monarch larva in action in either location since I shared a sketch on June 12, 2021. And believe me, I have looked for them both at home and at the Descanso! However, I have seen a number of wasps buzzing around the milkweed plants here and there. Wasps will hunt and kill such larva. I’ve seen them do it! If I see one hovering around my milkweed plants I spray them with water and then squish them underfoot. I probably wouldn’t be allowed to do that at the Descanso. No one there has ever questioned my bringing a squirt bottle filled with water into the garden, especially if they saw me use it to create one of my “just add water” sketches. (See 6/20/2020, 6/9/2020 and 4/13/2019 for examples of how I create a nice effect with Inktense pencils and blasts of water.) However, I wonder what the Descanso folks would think if I repeatedly sprayed a wasp–wetting it completely until it can’t fly, drops to the ground and I grind my heal into that ferocious critter—making it dead? That’s what I do at home, anyway. TMI, right?

However, you may or may not be interested in my quest to find thriving monarch larva or how I hunt and kill wasps. But you may be interested in my less violent story for the week—the amazing gingko tree you see in each sketch. I saw a whole bunch of butterflies flitting inside the potager garden (flanked by this maidenhair gingko tree) at the Descanso Gardens (7/28/2021), daring me to find out where they had been hiding. Of course that drew me in, but did not sustain my interest for long. I think maybe the best story here is that tree. (See January 1, 2021 to see this lovely tree as part of a series of pastel sketches I did in honor of our most recent winter solstice.) Once my attention was drawn into looking at the tree, I was hooked for more visits and summer tree renderings. These sketches show a “changed” opening to that part of the garden, as it was recently altered with a new rustic arbor. For the winter solstice pastel sketch, there was a kind of rustic gate that kept people from going inside. (Not really sure why we weren’t allowed in there. Maybe they had heard there was a CA girl planning to kill bugs in their garden?) It’s much better now, as the opening is much larger and people can walk around at will. (I haven’t been going near the wasps…) I happened to walk by the day the garden guys were reconstructing it. And I’m not sure why, but they left that original gate leaned up against the tree. I kind of like it there…somehow gone, but not forgotten. 

Monarch caterpillar update!

I went to the Descanso Gardens this morning to sketch. Guess what I found in a patch of milkweed just outside the potager garden? Yes, a monarch caterpillar. In fact, I saw two caterpillars munching away on this plant. That really made my day! After taking a bunch of pictures, I floated on air back into the garden to do another ginkgo tree sketch. It’s not here today. I’m saving it for next week’s story. Stay tuned…

July 31, 2021

Last Sunday Urban Sketchers Los Angeles met at Shoreline Village in Long Beach. I was thrilled to meet in person with my peeps for a day of drawing. And it seemed everyone in our group of 20, or so, was equally happy to be out and about for a sketching event. Shoreline Village is kind of a touristy spot, with lots of restaurants, shops and even a merry go round. So of course there were lots of families and couples wandering around, looking in windows and looking for a place to eat. The last time we were there it was pre pandemic (See 8/24/2019 post), and it looked much the same as it did the other day. I wasn’t particularly comfortable with so many people (sans masks) milling around. I’ve been vaccinated and I wore a mask—that helped alleviate my anxiety a little. But we were outside and I was very motivated to sit right down and draw. There are a bunch of great sketching opportunities at the Shoreline Village—the downtown Long Beach skyline with its tall buildings and palm trees, boats moving in and around the harbor, and colorful buildings along the wharf. And if you walk to the other side of the boardwalk, you can see the Queen Mary standing tall. Last Sunday there was also a huge cruise ship around that side as well. As I said, there was a lot to see and draw. So, I made the most of the morning and did these two sketches.

For the first sketch I rolled out my sheet of bubble wrap on a grassy area in the shade of a giant tree. It was a great way for me to begin my time there as it was across from the boardwalk and away from most of the people. There was also just enough of a breeze blowing to make the overall sketching experience cooly wonderful. As it turned out, another sketcher joined me there. We worked quietly for quite a while. At one point I looked at her and said that it was so wonderful to be sitting in a cool spot while looking at the boats coming and going in the marina. I also said that I would have enjoyed sitting there even if I wasn’t sketching anything. She said she thought so too. It was pretty great! But eventually we each finished what we were drawing and thought it a good idea to move on. Our group wasn’t meeting up for 45 minutes, and that meant we had plenty time to do another one. We packed up and went to look for another sketching opportunity—wondering if we would find an equally great spot. We wandered back to the actual boardwalk and looked for a place to perch. I found a set of stairs in the shade that offered a great view of another part of the harbor. My friend went around to the other side of the boardwalk to sketch the Queen Mary. The wooden steps were between two restaurants, making this sketching opportunity more lively than the first. It was nice, because by then I had relaxed about being around so many people. I really enjoyed doing that piece and boldly included a large ship as it motored it’s way out to the open ocean. I sat there for maybe 30 minutes, happily working away, until a security guard told me I couldn’t sit on the steps. He was nice about it. I knew I was close to being done, so I didn’t really mind moving. I packed up most of my materials, stood at the base of the stairs and finished the second sketch in a few minutes. It all ended perfectly as it was time for the group to get together and share what we had created. Sometimes it’s good to have a time limit. Then you can’t go too far with adding details that can ruin your final artwork. All in all, it was a great day to be a member of the Los Angeles Urban Sketchers group.

As an artist I am always thinking about how to use color in my work. Of course there are times that I don’t want color at all, focusing on a graphite grey pencil sketch, black ink lines or even white spaces and/or white pigment. If you have been looking at recent One California Girl art and stories you will then know of my most recent obsession with some new ink colors from The Goulet Pen Company. I ordered a sample set of 9 colors and have been experimenting with them in stand alone line drawings as well as a wonderful accompaniment to my Inktense pencils. I finally ordered a couple colors (Bleu Ocean and Green Marine) from Goulet, and I think they are amazing. I wonder if I’ve been having some kind of subconscious need to use the blues and greens of water. I mean, last week I sat creekside at the landlocked Descanso Gardens and went crazy with the water soluble Green Marine ink. And last Sunday I sat beside a Long Beach harbor and geeked out with Bleu Ocean ink. In case you are wondering, I created what I think is a great ocean color story by adding my Sea Blue and Teal Green Inktense pencils to the Bleu Ocean. Yes, it appears I am obsessed with water and colors of water. It’s pretty dry out here in California right now and I’m probably not the only CA girl who dreams of cool water.